Speculation of a Takeover at Lehman Grows

What do Fannie Mae (FNM), Freddie Mac (FRE) and Lehman Brother Holdings Inc. (LEH) have in common? For one thing, equity shares in all three companies have been nearly obliterated over the past few months as investors worry about the future of each; for another, all three are heavy into U.S. mortgages. “Lehman’s business is broader than Fannie and Freddie, but the link is that they were doing the same thing — packaging mortgages and selling them,” Ladenburg Thalmann analyst Richard Bove told the New York Times on Thursday. And therein lies the rub. Bove suggested yesterday that Lehman management’s stubbornness in holding the line on its business has made the company a prime target for hostile takeover, and upgraded his ratings on the company as a result, the Times reported. It’s that stubbornness that, if anything, seems to have put Lehman in the center of the mortgage maelstrom; others that went headlong into mortgages, including Citigroup Inc. (C) and Merrill Lynch & Co. (MER) have been seen regularly zigging and zagging as of late in an attempt to shed non-core assets and unload problematic mortgage-related securities. Even if the moves end up being window dressing — Merrill’s $30 billion sale of CDOs, in which it financed the majority of the deal, is a prime example here — they seem to have been somewhat successful in deflecting investor concern. On the heels of Bove’s suggestion that Lehman may be a takeover target, a separate Reuters report early Friday morning suggested that officials at Korea Development Bank have been considering buying all or a good part of the company; the Reuters report cited an unnamed official at the bank as saying talks had recently broke down, but that the bank was keeping its options open. News that there may yet be a buyout at Lehman sent shares skyrocketing upward Friday morning. Shares were at $15.53, up 13.19 percent, when this story was published. Broader stocks were up as well. In the first hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 117.49, or 1.03 percent, to 11,547.70. Neither officials at Lehman or KDB have commented on the Reuters report. Disclosure: The author was long FRE when this story was published; indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments, as well. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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